Review Summary: Go against the grain until the end.
It is safe to say that in recent times, Metallica has become increasingly overshadowed by their much livelier speed/thrash metal contemporaries. Bands like Motorhead, Exodus, Slayer, and *drumroll* Megadeth (cue Lars Ulrich aneurysm here) have simply featured more prominently than Hetfield & co. over recent years, and there are several reasons for this - most of them self-inflicted. For one, Metallica simply does not have the song-writing penchant or riff-production capacity to match their counterparts (followers of Metallica's progress will recognize that they've averaged only one album every five years for the past decade), which has caused them to fall behind when it comes to having a dominant presence at record stores. They've never been the most technically proficient of bands either (as anyone who listens to even a handful of metal bands will be able to tell you), and rely almost entirely on the aftershocks of their Black Album
-driven mainstream popularity to retain a semblance of relevance and meaning. Then there's also Napster - but that really needs no more elaboration.
Yet, judging by recent events, Metallica have apparently become privy to this gradual slide of theirs, and are taking the appropriate stopgap measures to put a stopper on the rot. They did two things (both of which pertain to the ideas outlined above), the first of which was to put out a lot of limited edition EPs at an extremely fast rate. In September we got (the admittedly mediocre) Six Feet Down Under
, after which the band quickly intimated plans to release yet another similar EP before the year is out - the rather enigmatically titled Live At Grimey's
(which was apparently recorded back in 2008). Then, sandwiched in between the aforementioned pair like a forgotten middle-child, is the subject of this review - a quickfire release which is clearly designed to keep the momentum going until late November at the very least, when the concoctions that took place within Grimey's Record Store are finally revealed.
What Metallica also did was to take advantage of the smarts of their loyalist fanatics: for Six Feet Down Under Part II
, the band relinquished the entire track selection process to their Australia and New Zealand MetClub members. The rationale behind this is mind-blowingly simple: if anyone knows what the 'Tallica faithful want to hear, it's the 'Tallica faithful. And so, the Oceanians put their heads together and came up with a scorching tracklist that is as simple as it is epic - giving birth to a new EP that is bereft of any post-1988 material in the process. It is thus that we find ourselves with a release that is a surprisingly engaging ride through the back-catalog (which is also arguably the best work) of this American thrash metal juggernaut.
A frequent problem that has plagued Metallica's shows is their occasional inability to bring forth the verve and cohesion of their studio recordings to the live setting. This problem is particularly pronounced for their longer, faster, and seemingly more complicated works from the 1980s. Yet, on Six Feet Down Under Part II
, the band come as close as they probably ever will get to producing the "definitive" live versions of tracks from ...And Justice For All
and Master of Puppets
that their fans have been waiting for. Take for instance, the EP opener "Blackened": it is the perfect start to affairs, featuring a clean recorded intro that quickly explodes into the song's signature machine-gun riff, which in turn is ably helped along by the roars of approval from within the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. The seamless chemistry forged between the band and their third bassist can also be seen at its zenith in a pair of fist-pump-inducing mid-sections, as Trujillo contributes some sterling backing vocals to both "Blackened" and "Ride The Lightning", the latter of which appears here as the EP's second track.
Those two scorching performances alone would make for a particularly memorable compilation, but amazingly, it doesn't stop there. In a linearly increasing fashion, the EP's best moments are saved for last - in the form of a relatively rare recording of Master of Puppets'
closer "Damage, Inc.". Easily one of the band's most under-rated songs, "Damage Inc." is rightfully embodied here as a whirlwind of riffs and speedy aggression, featuring thrashing drums to complement the rabid twin guitar play of James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett. The song also contains one of the more lasting soundbites of the album - that of Hetfield spitting the phrase "Damage Incorporated" into the microphone in his signature grunt. This number alone makes the EP more than worth the price of admission.
In terms of overall performance, the band sounds as tight a live act as it has ever been. Amongst the four, Hetfield is probably the most subdued: ever since he blew his vocal chords while touring in support of The Black Album
, his singing has been rather suspect, and on this EP he is betrayed at least twice by his weakened larynx, most notably during the bridge for "Master of Puppets", where he falters and pulls away from the mic after trying for too high a note. Yet, this is a minor grievance at best, and should not take away from what is a truly an excellent compendium of some of the band's best live work to date.
In short, the Six Down Under Part II
release turns out to be a compelling live release that presents a great thrash metal band that is both at pains to recover some of the old relevance that it once had, yet somehow still worthy of some form of external validation. Although it is rather telling that the band has to resort to material that is over two decades old to make themselves sound relevant, it is undeniable that we are faced here with an institution that still knows how to play to its strengths, and willing to stay alive and fight the good fight for as long as is humanly possible.
Long may it continue.
Author's Note: This review may also be found on my personal blog (at the address http://snuffleupagush.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/damage-incorporated/).